To praise or not to praise...

Praise is a powerful tool in our parenting and teaching toolkits if it is used consciously.

Research has shown time and time again, that quality praise from influential adults helps children develop resilience, grow in confidence and persevere because they believe they can do it (a growth mindset).

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Encouraging our youngest learners

Is all praise equal?

We need to be aware of how we praise. Studies suggest that some types of praise can actually undermine a child’s motivation. We need to avoid extravagant, overly-positive or inflated praise. It can either make kids feel pressured to reach goals that are unattainable, setting them up for failure and a blow to their self-esteem or it may put some children- particularly those with high self-esteem - at risk for developing narcissism. (Brummelman et al 2017)

I like this quote from Dr Madeline Levine, author of “Teach Your Children Well,”. She says, “The central task of growing up is to develop a sense of self that is autonomous, confident and generally in accord with reality.”

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Consistent feedback in Room 1

If that is our goal we want to use praise as more than just positive reinforcement. It is an effective way to give children the tools to understand and appreciate the reality of their own genuine achievement.

As parents and teachers, it is important to realise that self-esteem does not lead to accomplishment, but that accomplishment leads to self-esteem.

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Accomplishment equals self esteem

How do we praise well then?

Jennifer Henderlong Corpus and Mark Lepper are psychologists who analyzed over 30 years of studies, the effects of praise. They found that praise can be a powerful motivating force if you follow these guidelines.

  • Be sincere and specific when praising a child’s performance.

  • Praise children only for traits they have the power to change

  • Use descriptive praise that conveys realistic and attainable standards

  • Be careful about praising kids for achievements that come easily

  • Be careful about praising kids for doing what they already love to do

  • Encourage kids to focus on mastering skills- not comparing themselves to others (Henderlong and Lepper 2002)

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Specific praise leads to understanding

What some of our children had to say about praise….

My parents praise me when I win a competition- when I score high in things like in spelling tests. I can tell they are pleased by their tone.

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Athletics awards

When I do something well like get a try in rugby. When I accomplish something.  They are really happy and have a smile on their face. They say good job, well done. I really like it especially when they give me rewards. I’m always trying hard even if my parents aren’t amazingly happy with me I still try my best.

Mum and dad praise me when I’m on my bike doing tricks that I didn’t want to do or helping dad move the cows because I was scared. They like me giving things a go.

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Giving things a go at Merc

My mum praises me all the time-like when I do all my chores after school. They tell me what I’ve done bad too. My teacher praises the whole class but we have star of the day and power awards during the day- mainly for doing what we are told to do.

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Humour in Room 7

When I do my chores because I don’t do them often so they say well done.  No- I’m not really focused on praise- I don’t really care because I know if I’ve done something good or bad.

Some great tips on teaching children how to succeed.

Keywords: specific, resilience, motivation, accomplishment, self-esteem

Giving things a go at Merc2